In last week’s post I mentioned that visitors to Finca Los Gatos often ask us what we miss about the UK telling us the things that they couldn’t live without.  Steve and I usually laugh and say “nothing” but of course there are things we miss but don’t pine for (except sometimes). Truth be told you can get most things here especially on the coast where there is a much larger ex pat population meaning that the shops are full of British goods.  In Sax I can buy Tetley or PG Tips T-bags (an essential) and if I want to, baked beans.  Ten minutes down the road is a huge Carrefour where there is an entire section with English brands of biscuits, jams and Marmite (which I love but don’t buy very often as it is extortionately expensive), and in Salinas, a small nearby town which has a lot of Brits for some reason, there is an “English shop” run by a British couple that sells lots of things, mostly tins or packets of food that I would never buy and some standard greetings cards.  You can (should you wish to) buy a Daily Mail in Sax and the occasional Take a Break style magazine.

As I said last week, online shopping means that I have access to the majority of shops where I would normally buy clothes and the internet provides us with newspapers (and a whole lot more) so the things that I in particular miss, are very specific.

Here is my list:

  • People
  • Frome
  • Bookshops and the library
  • Marks and Spencer (don’t laugh)

People come first but whilst I miss my family and don’t see enough of them, actually I didn’t see them that often when we lived in England.  More, I miss the knowledge that they, most specifically my mother and sister, are just an hour an away and I could get to them in a short space of time.  The three of us used to try to get together a couple of times a year for some shopping/chatting at Cribb’s Causeway or Clark’s Village and for many years had a pre Christmas lunch and present exchange in Taunton near to my sister’s work.

Before we moved to Spain we made sure that mum could use skype so we are able have a face to face chat fairly often and of course she and my step father come and spend a week with us at least once a year, Kathryn has been over a few times and we have been back to England most years.

Christmas in Spain with my family 2013

Some of my aunts, uncles and cousins have also come and stayed with us which has been lovely.

I miss the friends that I used to see regularly.  There is no substitute for a chat over coffee after class or walking the dogs together.  A few close friends have been to see us here and I am hugely looking forward to Helen’s visit in January.  I miss my class members, some of whom had been coming to my classes for over twelve years and although I am still in touch with many of them, mostly on Facebook but some through the blog, there are times that I feel lonesome for the regular contact.  I know a lot of people here now both Spanish and English and it is lovely to stop and have a chat in the street or to have an occasional coffee but there isn’t the same sense of ease that comes from having known someone for many years.


I miss Frome A LOT.  I lived in Frome for thirteen years which is the longest period of time I have ever lived anywhere so to me it is my home town.  When we moved to Frome in 1997 it was a shabby and run down place with dilapidated but beautiful buildings and many boarded up shops but it had a really great feel.  I remember arriving for our first house hunting visit in 1996, parking in the North Parade car park, walking down the hill into the town and knowing that I wanted to live there.  The three different houses in which we lived in Frome were always within walking distance of both the town centre and the fields which wrap around the boundaries.  Over the years we walked up and down Frome’s hilly streets discovering hidden gems of streets and houses, we delivered leaflets for both our businesses to all the new housing estates and rambled with our dog Doobie through the surrounding countryside and villages.  During the time we lived there Frome became a thriving and vibrant town with many independent shops and restaurants, a yearly arts festival, regenerated brown-field sites and a monthly artisan market.  Filled with familiar faces and places, Frome will always feel like home.

Thank goodness for Kindle.  Steve and I are both big readers and rely on Kindle for a supply of English books.  I especially enjoy downloading free or very cheap books, usually classics and in this way have re-read the entire set of Anne of Green Gables books, Little Women and the four books about the March girls, Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy, all of which I read as a child and have recently discovered the books of Gene Stratton Porter that I remember my grandparents talking about when I was a child.  However, I miss bookshops for the ability to browse through the latest fiction releases and for non-fiction.  Popping into either WH Smith or The Hunting Raven bookshop  was a regular feature of our Frome weekend as was a visit to the library to stock up on useful books on gardening, cooking, living abroad and other fascinating subjects.  After I got home from work on Saturday afternoon, Steve and I would wander around town, visit the library and depending on the weather, sit outside the La Strada coffee shop or head home with a cake from M&S or Sagebury Cheese, the delicatessen, and dive into our books. Heaven.  There is a charity shop in Sax which is run by English people and has a book section.  A paperback is 50 cents and we have bought many books here.  The stock tends to be books of a holiday reading genre which, whilst not a bad thing, can become monotonous.  There is only so much chick lit I can read.

Finally in the list of things I miss is good old Marks and Spencer.  From underwear to chocolate shortbread and Christmas decorations, Marks has always been my “go to” shop.  I had thought Frome couldn’t get any better until a small branch of Marks and Spencer opened in the town.  The local branch didn’t have a huge range of products but I used to drift around the shop on a regular basis enjoying the vibe.  Like a homing pigeon coming to roost, I head unerringly for the nearest Marks and Spencer on any UK shopping expedition.  There is even a branch at Gatwick airport and when we arrive there after an early flight I head straight into it for lunch supplies, usually a roast beef and horse radish sandwich and I know I am in England.

I am very happy here in Spain.  There are a lot of things that I don’t miss at all and the blue skies and sunshine that lift my mood on an almost daily basis are one of the main reasons we moved here.  I love my home, my work and the challenge of making a new life here but some days yes, I miss you; family, friends, Frome, the library and Marks and Spencer.





Spanish Chic(a) – searching for style

People often ask us what we miss because we live in Spain and recently two people have asked me whether I miss English shops and English clothes.  The answer is both yes and no.

When we moved here I had clothes for the life I lived in England, most of which I spent teaching exercise, walking the dog or working at the medical centre at Downside (for which I had a uniform).   In the winter I wore jeans and jumpers or occasionally a tunic top and in the summer jeans and T-shirts or if it was especially warm, shorts and t shirts.  I shopped almost exclusively in Marks and Spencer and White Stuff and would wander around Cribbs Causeway and not find anything I wanted to buy.

My first purchases in Spain were from a shop called Decathlon, a vast sports shop that together with sports equipment and clothes, sells clothes for the outdoor life.  I bought two fleecy long sleeved T-shirts and a fleece sweatshirt which I wore with jeans and an old pair of track suit bottoms almost every day.  I wasn’t working, we had hardly any income and were working hard in the house and garden so clothes weren’t really a priority but warmth was as the temperatures dropped and our house revealed itself to be a badly insulated fridge.   In the first six months we were here the shops I went to were either supermarkets or builder’s merchants so there wasn’t much chance of clothes shopping even if I knew where to go.  Sax has only a few small family run shops which I didn’t feel comfortable going into with my limited Spanish, the market had plenty of clothes but nothing had a price on which was daunting and whilst I wasn’t working I didn’t feel able to spend money on clothes, haircuts or makeup and in any case didn’t have any real need for anything new.  A friend took me to a Spanish hairdresser who cut my hair nicely but the salon was in a town thirty minutes away from Sax making a haircut two hour experience.  A couple of cuts from an expat English hairdresser were unsuccessful so I  decided to grow my hair and cut my own fringe.  We did go to Valencia with our friends who live in Spain and discovered El Corte Ingles a large department store like John Lewis, and Natura, a chain of small shops that sells candles, incense and some slightly hippyish clothes that looked great on the hanger but when I tried on a lovely tunic top in a size that looked about right for me it looked, in my opinion, dreadful.    I have to admit that I was starting to feel both frumpy and grumpy.

Every day outfit in 2013

On our first trip back to England I headed into Marks and Spencer with a sigh of relief but didn’t actually buy anything.  I can’t remember why but I think that nothing felt right.  The only thing I bought during that trip was a leopard scarf print which I have since worn to death.

Back in Spain, the weather started to warm up and I unpacked my summer clothes.  Over six months without teaching exercise had taken its toll on my waistline, not to mention other lines and my T shirts and vest tops felt too heavy and clingy for the increasing heat.  Work on the house had largely finished and we found more time to explore the out of town shopping centres and the shops within them.  I had heard of Zara and surprisingly I found a Primark and H&M amidst the unfamiliar Spanish brands.  Faced with too much choice I panicked and only managed to buy a black linen weave t-shirt and searched fruitlessly for some trousers that weren’t skinny jeans or high fashion flares.  In desperation I bought some trousers that when I wore them caused Steve to comment that it looked as if I wasn’t wearing anything on my lower half and I  realised that I didn’t have a clue what looked right or would be suitable for summer.  Most of the shops seemed to cater for teenagers and I neither had the time or opportunity to spend hours trawling the shops.  A friend passed me some English women’s magazines but the clothes featured seemed to be suitable only for a high powered office/social life which didn’t look anything like my life.  The shopping malls are at least thirty minutes drive away meaning I couldn’t easily drift around the shops and I was struggling.  I had started to get some teaching work for which shorts and T shirts were not appropriate and literally had nothing suitable to wear or any idea what or where to buy.


In Valencia wearing ancient shoes and invisible trousers.

At this low point I turned to Pinterest, the online scrap booking site which to me is like a magazine with articles and pictures tailor made for the individual.  Each “pin” leads to a website and I discovered the world of blogs.  I subscribed to many and started to get up early in order to read get through my overloaded inbox.  At first, most of the style blogs I read were written by American women so the clothes and fashions weren’t easily available but then I stumbled on Midlife Chic, a blog written by a lovely English woman rediscovering her style mojo in her late 40’s.  Nikki worked at that time from her home in the north of England and is similarly at least thirty minutes from a decent shopping centre and therefore does a lot of online shopping.  I had a light bulb moment – the cost of P&P to Europe is about what the petrol would cost for a trip to a mall but I could shop from home saving me time and Steve the agony of trailing around the shops listening to me moaning about not being able to find anything I wanted.  I discovered that many familiar brands not only have web sites but European web sites together with rafts of comments on each item regarding sizing issues to help with the fit of clothes.  Many sites also tell you the actual size of the garment so that you can order more accurately.  I didn’t want to order lots of clothes and then have to send them all back if they didn’t fit.  Reading Nikki’s blog gave me an idea of what was currently in style and also more importantly, what might work for someone my age.

Everything started, as they say, to come together.  I have now ordered successfully from M&S, Boden, Woolovers and Next and have bought lots of things from Spanish shops such as Zara, Springfield and occasionally Desigual.  As my Spanish improved I followed the recommendation of a customer and visited a Spanish hairdresser having my hot and heavy long hair chopped off in two stages to its current asymmetric short cut.  For the summer I bought blouses in light and floaty fabrics  to keep cool and even bought a dress.  I loved the look of the statement necklace trend but have never really felt comfortable in necklaces so decided that my version is the statement earring.  Now that it is late autumn,  I love my blanket scarf which I bought over here and can wear with most of my winter outfits including my mega bargain Boden winter coat which I bought at 70% discount at the end of last season and have just started wearing with huge pleasure.  I have finally learned (although I don’t always follow through) that shopping for clothes has to be done in advance of when you plan to wear them if you want the best choice and that having a selection of good quality basics in mix and match colours is the way forward.  I never buy anything unless it goes with at least three other things (or I buy four things) and so no longer impulse buy.  My budget is small compared with some but I make my clothes work for me and don’t form part of the terrible statistic of women who wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time.

M&S Jumper bought in UK, Next jeans ordered online, Spanish scarf and boots bought locally. Feeling much happier.

I don’t miss English shops specifically but I do miss English shopping centres along with a few other things that I am planning to write a post about next week.

Thank you to everyone who got in touch last week, I hope I have replied to you all and didn’t miss anyone, I love hearing from you all.

Steve retains his own individual style




The learning curve

PB190784.JPGI have been teaching English and doing English conversation for over two years now; much of my work is with individuals ranging from five and six year olds to adults studying for the Cambridge exams or just wishing to improve their English for business purposes. Generally these lessons are a joy although occasionally the children are not in the mood to study for which times I have plenty of educational computer games for them to play and as a last resort, Hangman which most of them adore. I am extremely fond of all my clients.
Teaching in the Academy is very different. I recently read an article written by an English man who teaches locally and it clarified many things.
Here are a couple of quotes from the article:
The noise level in the classrooms is pretty high and the real teachers who hold my hand in the lessons occasionally make someone change seats or leave the room. I presume this means the youngsters must be misbehaving in some way but I never notice. I do notice the ones who don’t participate at all though. There are several who just stare at their shoes or draw elaborate pictures in biro. There seems to be no expectation that they join in at any level.”
“One thing I have probably noticed about the Spanish Education is the apparent use of books. In the school my role is to model real English so I am expected to talk and listen. I am not expected to work to any particular scheme or pattern but I get the idea that most courses start at page 1, exercise 1, go on to exercise 2, exercise 3 etc. The youngsters are certainly keen, conditioned maybe, to fill in the gaps in the exercises. In fact it seems much more important to fill in the gaps than understand the language that goes into the spaces. This involves a lot of pencil sharpening, rubbing out and the modern versions of tipp-ex. I was told yesterday that I will be given a timetable for working through the various books – you know the sort of thing. By the end of January you will have completed Unit 4. Apparently parents don’t like to see the books that they have paid for not getting filled up with writing, rubber detritus and tipp-ex. Progress can be measured by the number of pages completed.”
When I read this I immediately recognised some types of behaviour that I see in my young pupils. When I started at the Academy I taught a group of six year olds and a group of eight year olds. Last year I had very few resources and a classroom set up for adults. The tables were arranged in one large square with all the children around the outside sitting on chairs with wheels. There was a box of felt tips and a few pencils which weren’t sufficient for everyone which meant that the children sprawled over the table to reach the things they wanted and all shouted at the tops of their voices. With my boss’s permission I quickly bought coloured pencils to replace the felt tips which are hopeless for small children who colour with determination and lots of pressure. I bought scissors, glue and rubbers (which were often chewed) but the children continued to roll over the table to get what they wanted and the noise level remained high. With my low level of Spanish there were times when I felt unable to get the children’s attention let alone teach. The first few weeks were miserable. Fortunately I have a teaching guru at home and after consultation, I moved the tables so that the children sat in twos facing me as opposed to each other, bought more pencils etc. so each table had their own and spent some time with google translate in order to have a conversation with the children about classroom rules and sanctions. We agreed on a few simple rules: Listen and look, stop talking when I am talking, no shouting, no fighting and no running out of the academy. The last rule is because once I started reading about how to teach small children a foreign language I discovered TPR (Total Physical Response) which is a great way to teach verbs e.g. jump, skip, hop and of course run – hence “no running out of the academy”.

This is where we do TPR

Without a syllabus to follow I had to work out how to proceed and at what level for six year olds and eight year olds. There is a vast amount of material on the internet and I did a lot of printing and photocopying and sifting through the many American sites trying to find ENGLISH. I eventually settled on two sites, one American with some strongly accented games but loads of great ideas and the British council which has a site for children and one for teenagers which works pretty well for adults. Lessons developed a pattern and my lesson planning became much easier, the children seemed to mostly enjoy the classes apart from two alpha male eight year olds who spent most of the lessons arguing but I longed for more structure and resources that I didn’t have to spend hours trawling the internet for.
Gratifyingly, this year the majority of the children returned (apart from the two alpha males), bringing their friends and I teach two full groups of six year olds and two groups of eight year olds plus an adult group who are studying for “First Certificate” and intermediate level. My boss is thrilled and my pay has increased. We have found a series of books that have a multi sensory approach to learning and although the children groan a bit when the books come out, being used to books in their schools, they seem to enjoy the exercises although their focus is not trying to work out what to do (or listening to instructions) but to fill it in correctly consequently one of the phrases that trips off their tongues is “can I have a rubber please” – an improvement from “RUBBER, RUBBER, RUBBER” or the Spanish version of the same which was where we started. Pencil sharpening, especially among the younger girls is a splendid time waster and until I spotted what was going on, an opportunity for a competition to get the sharpest point. Several of the girls bring their own pencil cases to class and during the warm up exercise, fiddle about with the contents. After asking them not to followed by telling them off when they did, I now simply remove the pencil cases and hand out pencils when necessary. The groups of eight year olds are largely well behaved and motivated to learn and seem to be making good progress – their attendance is good. The six year olds, some of whom are only just six are a very mixed bunch, some of them were with me last year and know the rules but some are still testing the boundaries. They adore playing “Judith says” and singing along with the songs on the CD that comes with the books. Again, on the guru’s advice I have a system of tres avisos or three warnings for bad behaviour which culminate in being sent to the boss (I haven’t had to resort to that yet) and reward good behaviour and work with gold stars, lots of praise, showing the boss and occasionally, sweets. We have completed the first unit in the books in all four groups and although not all the children can do all the tasks with confidence and some can’t do much without lots of help, they have all made progress. I am debating teaching a Christmas song for a short performance for parents complete with reindeer head dresses. The learning curve is flattening a little but is still fairly steep but most days, I love going to work. Who’d have thought it.

My Classroom